In our first article on bilingualism, How Do You Know If You’re Bilingual?, we explored the ability of being able to write and speak French (or another second language) and English in Canada, and how to prove your language skills to employers.
Naturally, our next question is: Since Canada is a bilingual country, should someone who can understand and communicate in a second language get paid more than someone who doesn’t?
Will learning a second language—even a third or fourth—boost your pay cheque and get your career rolling?
Can you ask for more money if you’re bilingual?
It depends. In general, it is not simply the fact of being bilingual that entitles you to higher pay; rather, it is the act of being bilingual.
“Bilingual agents are paid for the use of their bilingualism,” says Jennifer Capano, a bilingual recruiter in the GTA. But this pay will not show up in the form of a higher salary. “In most companies, when hiring a bilingual, they will pay a premium that shows up separately on their pay cheque.” That means you could earn about $2,000 more annually than someone doing the same job in English only.
Should you be paid more than someone who does the same job in only one language?
Yes. Someone who uses their bilingualism regularly in their job will almost always be paid more as a result of their language skills.
“All companies hire based on a pay grade and scale,” Jennifer says. “The bottom of the scale will be someone with no experience or minimal skill set. The top of the scale within the pay grade will be someone who has all the must-haves. Just like an HR position will pay more for someone who has experience using SAP, a call centre will pay typically a dollar more per hour for someone who has the added value of being able to speak French.”
If your job requires you to work in a second language, you should be paid more.
Does “bilingual” always mean you can speak French?
Not all bilingual job postings demand an English/French worker. Depending on the business, companies will sometimes seek someone who, for example, speaks English and Mandarin. However, in Canada, “bilingual” typically refers to someone who is fluent in both English and French.
Bilingualism in the real world
Dr. Al Lee, Director of Quantitative Analysis at PayScale.com, a website that tracks salary trends across jobs and industries, concludes that generally, statistics do not show an inclination towards higher pay in bilingual employees. Statistics show a slight rise in pay regarding Arabic speakers working as intelligence analysts, but this is inconclusive.
Christopher Leite, a Teaching Assistant at the University of Ottawa, occupies a bilingual role but is not paid more for his bilingualism: “We are unionized, so there’s no difference in pay, but there’s a difference in opportunity.”
He says that, thanks to his bilingualism, he qualified for more contracts than his non-bilingual colleagues. Someone in his position could speak to students regardless of which language they preferred, resulting in stronger relationships with students and professors, who may ask for help marking bilingual papers.
He elaborates on another bilingual benefit: “I have colleagues in the federal government who officially don’t make more because they are bilingual, but do not have to do a one-year part-time course in a second language, meaning they can actually start their jobs at full employee salary right off the bat—again, a case of opportunity more than actual salary difference.”
Depending on your situation as a bilingual person, your job may or may not entitle you to a higher salary. However, no matter what the case, your bilingualism will certainly lead to more opportunities—and that’s quite the payoff.
Bilingual jobs on TalentEgg
Here at TalentEgg, we’ve noticed that almost all student and new grad jobs in Quebec either require candidates to be bilingual or consider bilingualism to be an asset. Most employers don’t specify whether they’d pay bilingual candidates more, but bilingual jobs typically get fewer applicants than English-only jobs – it’s a great opportunity to stand out to employers!